Significant science education research on multicultural science education, equity, and social justice


The purpose of this virtual issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) is to identify science education conceptual and research articles published from 1980 to 2010 that focused on multicultural science education (MSE), equity (EQ), or social justice (SJ) that science education researchers and policy makers should ponder. These articles started a systematic movement, advanced a systematic movement, or broke new ground in science education research on MSE, EQ, or SJ. In response to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, ethnic studies emerged as departments in higher education while in some institutions African American Studies, Latino Studies, and Native American Studies emerged as departments or institutes. In colleges and schools of education multicultural education (ME) emerged as a field of study. As ME began to mature as an academic discipline, theoretical perspectives such as critical theory, critical multiculturalism, and concepts such as EQ and SJ were incorporated. However, it took time for educational research disciplines to embrace ME. One of the first disciplines to embrace ME was social studies education; one of the last disciplines was science education. Eventually, conceptual papers and research studies began to be published in science education. However, in science education researchers used a variety of terms to denote the ideas found in the ME. Key words such as MSE, EQ, and SJ are used to describe conceptual papers and research studies in science education. Since a variety of terms are used to denote research related to culture, race, and ethnicity, it is important that science education researchers have the opportunity to know what publications in JRST are deemed those that broke new ground or started and advanced a systematic movement for studying cultural, EQ, and SJ issues in science education.

MSE is a field of disciplined inquiry devoted to research on cultural issues related to science learning, teaching, curriculum, assessment/evaluation, and teacher education. Since an essential elements of culture is language, then MSE also centers on language issues. Much of this research is based on the philosophy that education is culturally biased and evolves from cultural patterns that are shaped by time and place. Hence, social reconstructionism became a part of the discourse in ME since culture is viewed as a dynamic process which is ever growing and changing. EQ and SJ have also been included in the discourses of multicultural science educators. Research on EQ is about fairness, not equality, while SJ research is about institutionalized patterns of joint educational acts and interdependence and how to achieve distributive impartiality. Finally, MSE research findings can inform education policy in the United States and other countries.

This virtual issue project was directed by Mary M. Atwater (University of Georgia), the chair of the committee, appointed by Angela Calabrese Barton and Joe Krajcik, the co-editors of the JRST. The five MSE articles and four EQ/SJ articles from a pool of 233 articles were selected by a committee of 12 science educators. The committee included the following people: Julie Bianchini (University of California, Santa Barbara), Gayle Buck (Indiana University, Bloomington), Malcolm B. Butler (University of South Florida, St. Petersburg), Sumi Hagiwara (Montclair State University), Heidi Carlone (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Bhaskar Upadhyay (University of Minnesota), Felicia Moore Mensah (Teachers College, Columbia University), Obed Norman (Morgan State University), Jrene Rahm (Université de Montréal), Alberto J. Rodriguez (San Diego State University), Geeta Verma (University of Colorado, Denver), and Matthew Weinstein (University of Washington—Tacoma). These committee members decided the publication dates of the articles to be considered, aided in the development of the criteria scale, identified and rated articles that focused on diversity, MSE, EQ, or SJ, and ranked the 44 articles identified as having a score of 30 or higher based on the criteria scale. No committee member reviewed the year and issue of journal in which his or her article was published and did not rank articles in the category in which his or her article was being considered. The chair of the committee took the 70 highest scoring articles and determined the focus of articles as being diversity, MSE, EQ, or SJ and selected the final 9 articles to be included in this virtual issue based on the committees' recommendations. The decision had been made that only one article by an author would be recognized.

These articles demonstrate the evolution of the ideas related to the field of ME. As the diversity of students increased in public schools and the realization that most students were not receiving an equitable and a high quality science education, journals of science education began to publish articles related to culture. Therefore, JRST published nine conceptual and research articles related to culture, EQ, and SJ that impacted the field of science education in the areas of science teaching, science learning, science curriculum, science teacher education, or science assessment.

The first MSE article, “Social Constructivism: Infusion into Multicultural Science Research Agenda,” published by JRST is authored by Atwater (1996). She called for the research agenda in science education to include MSE research so that educators can understand the realities of individuals from various cultural groups. She challenges that “researchers must begin to study the educational efforts directed toward transforming the minds of students from both oppressed and privileged groups in science classes in communities all over the world” (p. 832). This article started a systematic movement of research in the area of MSE and convinced other ME researchers that science education researchers could take seriously the impact that culture has on science learning and teaching.

The second published article, “Strategies for Counterresistence: Toward Sciotransformative Constructivism and Learning to Teach Science for Diversity and Understanding,” by Rodriguez (1998) investigates the resistance of secondary science preservice teachers to change their curricular practices. This article broke new ground in science education research in the area of EQ/SJ by investigating preservice science teachers' cultural ideas about students and how science teacher educators might provide experiences that will allow preservice teachers to move beyond their the feelings of disbelief, defensiveness, guilt, and shame as these preservice science teachers relate to the conflicting messages they receive from their cooperating teachers (cover the curriculum and maintain class control) and from their university supervisors (implement student-centered, constructivist class activities) to actually successfully teach students who are culturally different from them.

The third conceptual article, “Cross-Cultural Science Education: A Cognitive Explanation of Cultural Phenomena,” by Aikenhead and Jegede (1999) first synthesize the research on border crossing (student crossing their lived world into the world of school science) and challenged researchers to re-examine published data in terms of border crossing. They introduced the ideas of microcultures and collateral learning in the science literature. This article continued to advance a systematic movement of MSE research by noting that the science education community has been traveling toward two goals: understanding concept learning and developing science-for-all programs. They advocate that we can reduce these obstacles by treating the two goals as one in the same and embrace a cross-cultural perspective on science education based on the classroom realities of border crossing and collateral learning. They do provide a guide for culturally sensitive reforms in the 21st-century science classrooms in the world.

The fourth article, “The Culture of Power and Science Education: Learning from Miguel,” by Barton and Yang (2000) is an ethnographic case study of a homeless Puerto Rican family and raise the issues of culture and power in U.S. science education. This was the first powerful EQ/SJ research article that looked at Latinos and their struggles in the arena of science education. A few ME researchers focused their work on Latinos, but Barton and Yang were the first in science education to look at the impact of culture, language, class, and cultural capital on learning science in U.S. schools. Barton and Yang remind us how pervasive and dangerous uncritical acceptance of the culture of power can be for youth from nondominant backgrounds, and its impact on shaping the on-going interactions youth have in school settings and their possible futures in science.

Warren, Ballenger, Ogonowski, Roseberry, and Hudicourt-Barnes (2001) in their article, Rethinking diversity in learning science: The logics of everyday sense-making published in 2001, propose a framework for understanding the meaning-making practices of Haitian and Latino students. This research study advanced a systematic research movement of investigating language and its impact on science learning.

Even though there were a few other research articles about urban schooling, Brown (2006) in his article, “It Isn't No Slang That Can Be Said about This Stuff: Language, Identity, and Appropriate Discourse,” investigates how urban high school students make meaning of their experiences in 9th and 10th-grade life science course and were able to appropriate discursive practices of science, but were able to adopt the epistemic and cultural behaviors of science. For example, most of the urban students (ethnic identified as African American, Bi-racial, Cambodian American, Chinese American, El Salvadorian, and European American) rarely considered themselves members in the community of scientific thought they were describing This article combined both the students' language and began the discussion on student science identity in science classrooms. Student identity as science learners now became a part of the MSE research discourse.

Also, Buxton (2006) wrote the article, Creating Contextually Authentic Science in a Low-performing Urban Elementary School, continued to advance the EQ/SJ research agenda by studying the attempt to reform science education at Mae Jamison Elementary School in the State of Louisiana. Set in the era of accountability in United States, he not only outlined a much needed taxonomy for authentic science inquiry experiences, but found that there were cases in which teachers were able to successful engage their students in authentic science inquiry in new ways. However, linking the Western scientific canon with those of student-generated inquiry to make science learning critically socially relevant was neither systemic nor lasted beyond the semester. In addition, he found how difficult it was for the teachers and students who came from different class backgrounds to have a shared understanding even though they were viewed by the researcher as Black. He reminds us that the debate for high quality standards need to continue and research must continue to discover ways to provide high quality learning to urban elementary schools.

Most of the focus on ME research was on students of African ancestry and Latinos. However, Chinn (2007) with her article, “Decolonizing Methodologies and Indigenous Knowledge: The Role of Culture, Place, and Personal Experience in Professional Development” uses a professional development institute to investigate how mathematics and science teachers and administrators from eight countries view the role of culture, place, and personal experience in science instruction. The teachers in this study shared their personal stories about their lives, agreed upon the wisdom and ethics of traditional and indigenous practices, and expressed many of the elements of transformative environmental learning such as a sense of place, connecting with nature, revitalization of traditional and indigenous knowledge, learning from elders, and understanding of power–knowledge relationships. The 2-day workshop concluded with discussions on ways to bring specific environmental issues in their “lifeplaces” into their teaching. For the first time, a researcher impacted the ME research dialogue with the introduction of indigenous people and findings of how place-based experiences, cultural practices, and cultural values impact science teaching and learning. This article started the movement in place-based science education.

Finally, Penfield and Lee (2010) with their SJ/EQ article, “Test based accountability: Potential Benefits and Pitfalls of Science Assessment with Student Diversity,” advanced a systematic research movement on the relationship among standardized testing, culture, and language. They discuss the test-based accountability policy in the Unites States in light of student populations learning English as a new language. Not only did these authors identify the pitfalls that this testing accountability brings for these students such as the inconsistency of students' cultural and linguistic experiences with the properties of the test (e.g., item content) and the assessment process (e.g., science inquiry tasks in English), but offered resolutions and future research studies to be conducted such as studies aimed at improving our understanding of why and how science assessments have different measurement properties for students than their majority counterparts, why and how linguistic and cultural factors can adversely impact the validity and reliability of test scores of minority students, and developing multiple forms of assessments to examine whether different forms have linguistic, cultural, and contextual information specific to the particular student population being tested.

These nine research articles provided a novel way of looking how culture impacts science teaching, learning, teacher education, and assessment/evaluation. As you read these articles, I hope that you discover there are missing voices in this research arena on culture, EQ, and SJ. You will notice that there are few articles written by international members and no voices from Latin American and South American authors. In addition, most of the authors reside in the United States; hence, there is a limited perspective on culture, EQ, and SJ. This is the first effort by the editors of JRST to highlight science education research on MSE, EQ, and SJ; it is hoped that in the future additional authors' voices are read in JRST publications.